Friday, 23 December 2011

Children and Tear Gas in Bahrain

Images of children getting gassed in Bahrain kept me awake last night.

This is how it happens:

And these are just some of the victims:

No more commentary necessary. Let the world be horrified.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Bahrain and A Taste of Heaven

The past few weeks my world has, maybe once again, been torn apart. My sleep has been taken as I have been haunted by images of torture and feeling the pain of suffering that takes place when a parent is separated from their child.

It all began just a few weeks ago when I was watching the BBC news. I saw the news report regarding 20 medics who had been sentenced to up to 15 years in prison in Bahrain which had struck a chord of empathy within me, since I am a mother, and a doctor's wife. I wanted to do something to help these people and thought maybe I could use my website MedWorm to raise awareness about their plight and start a campaign of support.

Of course with social media these days the World is a much smaller place. It is very easy to reach a wide audience. After doing some initial research I posted a video message of my feelings regarding the matter online and I placed a link to the video from the MedWorm RSS feeds that sent it out to hundreds of medical subscribers and other medical websites. Within a few days it had been watched over 2,000 times.

I started Tweeting about the matter and decided I should build a website for the campaign, and soon I found myself communicating directly with the medics who offered to post a few words on my site. I asked them for some background information on each of them, a few photos and a written testimony as to what had happened to each of them, in their own words.

What I was totally unprepared to receive were accounts of terrible torture which were very traumatic to read, and I know far more traumatic for the medics to write as they explained to me that these were memories that they would rather forget and had pushed to the back of their mind as they were too painful to recall. However, faced with up to 15 years in prison they felt they had no option but to speak up now about what had happened otherwise they would soon be going back to the Hell from which they had only recently thought they had been released from.

You can read some of their testimonies on the Doctors In Chains website here. Others I will be posting in the coming days.

It is hard to understand what it must feel like to be living under the constant threat of your house being broken into in the middle of the night and you being abducted in front of your children by masked gunmen. But as I have got to know and love these doctors and nurses over the past few weeks, the situation in Bahrain has felt very real and near to me. Already of nervous disposition, I find myself from time to time panicking and I have to calm myself down, to remind myself that I live in the safety of the UK where my human rights and freedom of speech are protected.

Part of me would rather run away from all of this and pretend it just isn't happening, like it just isn't my problem and has nothing to do with me. But I know that it is exactly that kind of attitude that allows such abuses of human rights to occur in the first place. If I turned away when I knew I could do something to help, I would be just as guilty as the people doing this stuff in the first place. So I have no choice. I just have to swallow my insecurities and speak up. It is only when ordinary people in countries that have freedom of speech start to exercise this liberty on behalf of those who do not that the World will ever see change. And change it must, if I am to have any hope for my children.

It was about 13 years ago that I was travelling through a time of personal spiritual exploration. I went to sleep after praying somewhat egotistically that God might reveal to me in my dreams a little bit of what Heaven is like. And I did go on a journey that night, which I will never forget. But not to Heaven, but rather to Hell. I was taken to a place that was just out of sight, but right next to a busy street, where I saw the most horrific scenes of horror and depravity that I had never even imagined could exist. So awful that I cannot begin to describe. Scenes of torture and perversion that made me want to wretch. In my dream I was terrified and left one room of evil to come across another, and another, and another. I was so scared that I wanted to get away, and so did everyone that was there, but the more we all tried to escape the worse things became. People were in need of help, but no-one would help because of their fear.

When I reached what may have been the last room I said to myself that I didn't care any more, everything was so awful, I just had to help someone, even if that would be dangerous to do so. I turned to someone on a torture rack and helped them down, and then the place became less awful, and then other people started to do the same, and the evil just started to fade away. The rooms changed colour and flowers started to grow, and brick walls started to fade away to nothing. And then I woke up.

I was shocked, stunned, somewhat traumatised. I shared what I had dreamt with one lady who was older and wiser than myself. I felt people might think I was a little crazy at the time, but she understood and said she had had a similar dream once herself. As I get older this dream, that awful journey, starts to make sense.

I believe in the Power of Love. I really do. I believe violence breeds violence, and hatred breeds hatred. But I believe in the Power of Love, and I believe one day it will conquer all. With all my heart. This is my hope that I hold on to in times of despair.

So what is love, really? And how can it be applied?

I was thinking about this image:

Now what if one of those military men had got out of their tanks, walked up to this demonstrator and given him a hug. How would that have turned out? You might laugh, but I bet it would have diffused the situation better than bullets.

And what about this image of the demonstrator about to be shot at short range? (yeh I've seen the video explaining that he was shot by a blanks which I was relieved to see, but just hear me out):

What if instead of shooting the protester they tried to shake his hand? He was near enough to do that. What would have been his reaction if they did?

And what about these people demonstrating? I understand their anger. Really I do. But what if they held up flowers instead of clenching their fists? And replaced their anger with love? And instead of shouting they sang? Like what happened here.

I believe in the Power of Love. I really do. And I think love is not about anger. It is about hope and endurance. I believe love is the most powerful emotion of all.

“I strongly believe that love is the answer and that it can mend even the deepest unseen wounds. Love can heal, love can console, love can strengthen, and yes, love can make change.”
Somaly Mam, The Road of Lost Innocence: The True Story of a Cambodian Heroine

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Building the #digpen community on Google+

As my #digpener buddy Sophie Dennis knows, I'm a bit of a 'new paradigm lunatic' when it comes to Google+. It was quite unexpected for me. I'm not a big fan of monopolies taking over the world, didn't jump on Buzz or Wave, and have always felt a bit of a cynic when it comes to new platforms, especially when they involve social media. But as soon as I saw the Google+ circles, it really was like love at first site.

So why this somewhat irrational willingness to fall for Google+, and is this my heart leading my head, or my head leading my heart? And why do I think it so good for our fledgling #digpen community? I have been trying to understand this myself, and find some logical reasoning to explain my passion.

At first site, there is an issue with Google+, in getting it to work well for a community: at the moment it is not possible to set up an organisation, or a shared group. It is not possible to set up that one place that says 'this is #digpen' - 'come here and talk', 'come here and see who the #digpen members are',' come here and get the latest #digpen news', etc. So we start looking for 'work arounds' and wondering why Google hasn't thought about this, and why they aren't (yet) letting people create organisation profiles (at least they are discouraging it for the moment). Is this just because it is in Beta? Surely they have thought about this?

Well I am not sure whether it is intentional or not, but I believe the creativity induced by this current constraint leads me, and maybe others, to think again about community, and how best to create a real one. Thing is, having a place for people to go and share stuff does not make a community. Like a church building will never be the house of God (am I allowed to use a religious metaphor without causing offence? - No offense intended!). It is of course all about what happens within a place, and a place is of course a limiter - trying to keep relationships and communications within a static place will stop those relationships growing, both in number and in strength - the building is always at risk of killing those relationships from really developing.

Any online forum will always be limited. There will always be just a small percentage of people in that forum who are active. The rest will be spectators, occasional commentators, at best. The majority will sit back in the assurance that things are happening, a discussion is taking place (if the forum is still alive), that can be watched, and on occasion maybe chipped in on, but only a small percentage (maybe the 20/80 rule?) will feel a part of that apparent community.

So in Google+, we are all responsible for creating, and building, our own circles, our own communities. #digpen will thrive as a movement with shared values and an emerging shared vision as lots of those circles start to overlap each other. It is that overlapping that will make us really strong. No one person and no one forum will be the making and subsequent inevitable downfall of the community.

So that is why I think I really want you all to get on there, and build your own circles of web dev types in the SW, and invite people in to your own mini communities. I am convinced as you do so, and start to really communicate and get to know people in your circles, and open yourself up to the other people in the locality, and invest in strenthening these relationships, when we all do this, that exciting thing that the world is looking for will REALLY start to happen, right here, in #digpen territory.

Does this have to all happen on Google+ - no absolutely not. In fact, it is kind of key that there's stuff going on elsewhere too. Because if Google+ starts to lose favour, our community should not be dependent on that. And it should be offline as well as online. But Google+ is a great tool for us to use, I am sure of it, because it is based on these circles that mimic a healthy essential part of real society. But it will only really be effective if we all get on there, and take our individual responsibilities, build our own circles, and invest time and effort in developing our relationships within those circles. And when we all do this, together, it will be AWESOME (even in spite of those bugs - still waiting for my +1s to appear!)

Oh yeh, almost forgot to say, if you do get on it, don't forget to add me to your circle :)

Sunday, 29 May 2011


Time for an update.

In February I decided to find out where all the web developer talent in the South West lies. I suspected there was a lot of it, but I wasn't aware of it since I had been living in my own developing bubble busy with my own work for the previous 4 years. But the time has come to grow MedWorm and pull in some real investment, and one of the first things I needed to find in order to attract investment was a solid development team to take the project forward.

I started to use LinkedIn to find php developers in the area (to begin with). I found that there are actually loads of them, but many of them were working also like I had been, in their own bubbles too, disconnected from the rest of the talent around. Many of them thinking they were the only web developers in the area, others reluctant to connect with potential competitors, or just plain scared to meet people at all having lost all of their socialising skills as a result of working so long in virtual solitary confinement.

I began to visit as many developers as I could find for a cup of tea and a chat to discuss the idea of us all getting together for a meet-up. And it was whilst meeting people and chatting over ideas that a vision started to form - not my own vision, but the start of a shared vision.

The South West of the UK is perfect territory for creative talent - indeed it is already well known for its many artists, designers, musicians, theatre companies and film producers. I had suspected that the area was also crawling with web dev talent as creative types tend to migrate towards the South West in search of a more healthy life, surrounded by beautiful countryside and coastline, and the organic ethical kind of lifestyle. Of course working as a web developer actually means you can live pretty much anywhere and still do your work, so long as you have your all important connection to the web. And I was able to confirm my suspicions as I started to meet all different types of developers and I began looking at the fantastic quality of work people are producing - this area is literally crawling with hidden web dev talent.

The vision is that if we all connect, and start to work in a collaborative manner, viewing every local competitor as a potential collaborator instead, we can build a web development community that will be so strong it will start to pull in investment into this area, and in effect allow us to build the UK's own version of Silicon Valley: The Digital Peninsula.

So I organised our first web dev unconference which became known as #digpen, obviously as a result of the Twitter tag that we used, originating out of the words 'Digital Peninsula'. This was held at the University of Plymouth in March, had over 80 developers attend, and was a real success, so we then organised as a community further events to cover the rest of the peninsula. #digpen II was held at Exeter Phoenix in May, and #digpen III will take place on 11th June at the University College Falmouth - you can register here. If you want to see exactly what happened have a look at these photos and videos, and if you want to get involved you may wish to follow the #digpen Twitter list and register for our LinkedIn forum where we often hang out:

#digpen I

#digpen I photos by Jason Mayes:

#digpen II

#digpen II photos by Nick Charlton:

View more great #digpen II photos here by Dan Barber

#dipen II videos by Mark Peberdy:

Things you can do to be a part of #digpen:
- register for #digpen III
-join our discussion in the SW (UK) Web Developers LinkedIn forum
- register for our newsletter
- follow our Twitter list

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

New 'MedWorm Blast' Service

Last week I spoked to Denise Silber who was looking for media partners for the Doctors 2.0 conference that she is organising in Paris in June this year. I suggested that I put out a simple message with hyperlink promoting the conference via all the unsponsored MedWorm feeds.

Less than one week later I ran an exact search in Google on the text used in the message:
"Find out about the Doctors 2.0 and You conference in Paris, June 22-23rd. The call is now on for posters and the start-up contest."

It returned approximately 109,000 indexed pages from across the web containing this text (and the hyperlink most of the time, except for the cases where the hyperlinks were stripped out of the RSS feeds). Here's the evidence.

Isn't that amazing? And this is just a glimpse of the MedWorm feed distribution, since there are thousands more individuals that subscribe to the feeds directly, say via Google Reader.

So today I launch a new service, called 'MedWorm Blast'. If you have an important message that you need to get out to the medical and health sector, globally, very fast, you can pay to get your message out in the same way. I'm not sure how much to charge, so am going to try $100 a day and see what response I get.

If you have reputable product, service, event or website then contact me here if you want to give this a try (and support MedWorm in doing so!): (sorry but I won't accept any messages that I consider unethical or junk).

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Going Global By Starting Local

It's been an incredible year for me of self-discovery and development. This sounds incredibly cliche I know, but I really feel like now I have 'arrived'.

Every year I promise my family, this is it, this year is the year that MedWorm really makes a success of itself. But really I was trying to convince myself. This year I don't even need to say it, because I know it, which is the most wonderful feeling. Like this really is the beginning of the exciting journey I was struggling to start.

Over 4 years I've been working on MedWorm. What have I been doing in all that time? Developing.

Not just developing the code - of course I have been doing plenty of that. But I have been developing as a person.

I remember reading Peter Jones's autobiography Tycoon some time back and being slightly frustrated with him saying that one of the key elements that need to be in place for an entrepreneur to gain success in their business was that it had to be the right time for them as a person, taking into account their family circumstances and other things that may be going on in their life. I didn't want to hear that, I guess because I knew it wasn't the right time for me, and was impatient to wait.

But the over the last year (and a little more) I grew, and now I'm really seeing the world through a different lens, which is going to be so vital to the way I grow the MedWorm vision in the years to come. Had I embarked on my journey too soon, I am now convinced I would have missed a vital opportunity which I am now about to take hold of.

Let me explain:

I started building MedWorm when my son was about 1 year old. Middle of the night feeding my baby on one arm (he never slept well, and was feeding for ages) I usually had my computer on the other. The next few years were a constant challenge, trying to build what I had in mind, a complete beginner in php and mysql, whilst juggling nappies and all the joys of a chaotic family life (and as a doctor's wife my husband's career naturally had to take priority). I knew no investor would take me seriously so had to build it myself.

Over the next few years I worked harder and harder, leaving little 'me' time, working on my own from home each day (not healthy to do for a long period of time I think) and becoming increasingly obsessed with health issues (what my husband calls 'medical student syndrome') until I reached a moment of crisis mid 2009 when we all had a nasty visit with the swine flu. During that time I realised a few truths of life - in particular that the reason why bad things in the world happen is because people who could make a difference don't - and this changed my outlook and way of communicating with the world.

What happened next was extrordinary - from that moment of enlightenment I found myself taking steps to speak up for what I believe is truth and to start fighting for justice in the world, in whatever small way I thought I could - which led to me playing a central role in a fight against the plan to build a large scale mass burn incinerator in my locality. This resulted in me stepping into the limelight to help organise and speak at public meetings and demonstrations, as well as giving interviews to the media (newspapers, radio and tv) - this was all a massive challenge, having lived the life of a hermit for several years previously (not online, there I was ok - but in person I guess I was something of a recluse).

I also got to meet, and know, many people in my local community, and came to understand what a wonderful group of people there are here - with experience and skills in so many areas. I realised I could help in linking people together to work together in all various aspects of our campaign against incineration - and as we joined forces we started to become powerful. Who knows if we will win the battle in the end or not - but what is sure is that the little town of Ivybridge has benefited in so many ways in its fight, since out of it has grown a wonderful community of people with shared values that really care for each other and are willing to give up their time to work on projects together for the benefit of society.

All this I got involved in without any thought for myself - my objective was to do something positive in the world. And if my theory was right, my issues of anxiety would resolve themselves as I got the balance back in my life that was so desperately needed.

And that is what happened!

And now I realise the huge payback I have received for my efforts over the past year. I can now translate all the skills I have learned into my own work. Communication, presentation, identifying and pulling together skills in order to collaborate on projects. Wow, how exciting!

Been struggling for years to work out how to pull together a team in order to get investment to take MedWorm forward. The plan was all great, and I know I would have no trouble tempting investors - but getting together a team that I could have confidence in, and put my trust - that was a real struggle.

But just recently I became aware (largely thanks to LinkedIn) of the massive amount of web development skills are to be found in the South West of England - people living all around me. I don't have to go globe trotting to find the people I need to work with - they are living just next door to me! This is so exciting.

A few days ago I presented at the Born Global auditions - got through to the next round. Have just applied for some funding the the Technology Strategy Board for a feasibility study for a related project I have in mind - will know about that by the end of the month. Been helping Chris build the new LinkedIn SW Web Dev group and on 5th March will be hosting the South West's first Web Dev Unconference at Plymouth Uni. Been meeting the most wonderful developers - so positive and willing to collaborate. This is the start of something exciting, the right time and the right place - keep an eye on the South West of England as we are about to see the emergence of the Digital Peninsula, our very own Silicon Valley. If you are a web developer looking for a change of scenery, this is the place to live!

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Clinical Trials Feeds Added to MedWorm - Thanks Lennie!

It was on the 3rd December 2007 that the wonderful Leonard Sender MD, adolescent and young adult cancer oncologist (now Medical Director of the Cancer Institute at Children's Hospital of Orange County as well as chair of on the board of directors on the also fabulous I'm Too Young For This! cancer foundation for young adults) contacted me with an idea for MedWorm - to use it to disseminate information regarding clinical trials. I only spoke to him I think once (or maybe twice), never met him in person, but he was so supportive and enthusiastic about MedWorm he made a big impact on me in the short few minutes that we spoke.

Well, 3 years later, I finally got round to adding clinical trials as new data streams being fed into MedWorm. They only got added properly at the weekend so it will take a while for the data to become significant, but already I'm excited about it. You can of course search on the clinical trial data using the MedWorm search options, but more interesting is to browse MedWorm. Click on any category, condition, treatment, etc, and if there is clinical trial data in MedWorm related to that topic you will be able to click on a Clinical Trials tab with all the latest trials for that topic appearing listed by date order. Of course, as with any topic in MedWorm, you can then subscribe using the RSS feed, say into your Google Reader, or you can get the data emailed to you (if you register to use the free MyMedWorm service).

For example, here's the tab of the clinical trials for Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia - try browsing MedWorm by clicking on all the different topics that exist, such as medical conditions or specialties, and look out for the Clinical Trials tabs for each topic that you click on. If you know of any clinical trials feeds that you think have not yet been indexed in MedWorm please do let me know so that I can add them.

Many thanks Lennie for the idea and the inspiration - sorry it took so long! (I'm getting there slowly but surely).

Saturday, 1 January 2011

New Year Resolutions

I gave up making new year resolutions many years ago. I think I was still a teenager, or maybe I had just reached young adulthood, when I decided they didn't work so there was no point in making them. But last week I remembered that naive like optimism I had as a teenager that I really could change whatever I wanted to, with just renewed determination. Some time later in life I think I somehow lost some of that optimism. Well now I have it back, and with better skills and knowledge, I've decided to make some resolutions for this new year, and I really believe that I going to keep these.

Last week I pondered over why new year's resolutions don't work, and I reckon I've worked out why. I think they usually state what a person would like to do, but they don't usually state how the objectives are going to be achieved, and most people don't have a plan, or if they do have a plan in mind it may be unrealistic (I do believe that we can achieve amazing things, but the plan to do something must match the level of motivation and take into consideration other pressing motivations in your life, and most new year resolutions are made with no such consideration).

So my list of resolutions include not only what I am going to do, but how I am going to do those things. Here they are:

- I am going to be tidy, by tidying up as I go along.

- I am going to be on time, by aiming to be early.

- I am going to get more exercise, by walking up stairs instead of taking the lift.

- I am going to eat more fruit, salad and vegetables, by eating a piece of fruit with my breakfast each morning, a side salad every lunch time, and a side plate of vegetables with every evening meal.

- I am going to stop forgetting things to buy when I go shopping, by keeping an updated list of needed items in my kitchen to take with me when I go shopping.

- I am going to get on top of my bookeeping and not leave tax returns to the last minute, by first putting in place an efficient filing system and then allocating a regular weekly and monthly time slot in my working day to do this.

- I am going to move MedWorm into profit, by thinking business mindedly in all that I do.

All the above have had a lot of thought. Likely such thought would bore you, but here are my thoughts for the record:

- I am going to be tidy, by tidying up as I go along.

OK, confession time, I'm not the most tidy of people. Struggled with it all my life, but I am not about to give up and am convinced I am going to crack this one this year - I refuse to be beaten! When I put my mind to it, I can be the tidiest person around. When I do a job I like to do it properly. Problem is that the motivation to tidy is far down my list of priorities. I see my current house as temporary and therefore not something I should waste a lot of time on perfecting. I am so interested in so much other stuff, other than tidying. I take on a lot too so if I am short on time, it is the housework that slips. However, I managed to get myself a husband that does absolutely zero housework, who unfortunately lived all his live before he married me with a mother who was obsessively tidy - a lot of the problem there is related to culture I think, women's liberation in his home country I reckon is about 20 years behind where we are at in the UK (in some respects). But the problem I am looking to address here is not my husband, but myself.

I have over time observed some very tidy people and tried to work out what their secret is. I did wonder whether it was a genetic default that I am not very tidy, or whether it was because I was not conditioned well into tidying when I was a young child. Although I suspect there is an element of this at play, I still believe being tidy is something I can teach myself to be, just a case of finding the right keys to turn.

I asked my old neighbour with an immaculately tidy house what her secret was. She told me 'it takes years'. What did she mean? Did she really mean it takes years to tidy a house? Do you have to wait until the children have left home? Does it take years to learn the secret of tidiness? What she said may have left me in despair with the thought that it would take years for me to ever get tidy, but in fact it gave me hope, hope that she one day was not so tidy and now is, so therefore could I be.

I had another friend who was obsessively tidy. I came to learn that this was actually almost a disorder. She had so many things in her mind that she was unhappy with that by keeping her house tidy was her way of trying to 'keep it together'. I learnt that actually inside her cupboards things weren't so organised - she was great at keeping the mess out of site, but it was mostly just hidden. A few years back I went through a traumatic time and for a while I suddenly found I could be really tidy - I thought, ah, that's it - all those tidy women out there may have experienced a really traumatic event in their life and tidying helps them work through their problems. Only problem was, once I had worked through my problem, the tidiness started to slip again.

I asked another friend of mine how she keeps her house so tidy. She does have a secret weapon - her husband, who is obsessively tidy through conditioning as a child. But I think she is quite tidy herself too. You can drop in at their house at any time and it always looks a little like a show home. Her reply to the question as to how they keep it so tidy was that they 'tidy up as they go along'. After thinking about this for a few years, I figure that is the key, hence my resolution to to 'tidy up as I go along'. Whenever I do something now, once I've finished doing the job I take extra time to check that I am leaving no mess behind me - which is what I do easily whenever say visiting the beach - so it actually isn't that hard to remember. And it is amazing the mess that I realise I was leaving behind me at every task - just little things that one hardly notices at the time, but which build up over time. And of course when in a bit of a hurry I can quite easily leave a trail of destruction behind me. So I've been trying this for 3 days now - house is getting tidier and tidier without much effort at all - quite excited about this, figure this really is going to work.

OK now I have a 6 year old son pestering for my attention, so the rest of the points will probably never get written. Not that important anyway. The method in reaching my conclusions on how to do things are similar for each.

Happy New Year!